The Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners will cut the only bus routes primarily serving Crestview if the city can’t find funding to keep them running.
The board’s Sept. 3 decision gave Crestview 60 days to find a solution to save Routes 11 and 12; one Destin route, which received a similar ultimatum, gets six months.
That won’t mean much to many people reading this, but for a number of residents — including the disabled, senior citizens and lower-income taxpayers — a vital public service hangs in the balance.
Dozens of protestors attended last week’s meeting to support the bus routes, which carry passengers to city hall, the court house, the post office, the library, local schools, the health department, North Okaloosa Medical Center, a number of grocery stores and various residential streets.
Such stops help one man, who, using sign language to express his support, said Okaloosa County Transit, the nonprofit group that operates the buses, allows “… anyone like myself who has low vision (and is) unable to get a driver’s license” to see their friends, get to work and come to public meetings.
One long-time Okaloosa County resident, whose blindness prevents her from driving, said that with four children living in Louisiana and Oklahoma, she depends on the bus.
“Who knows,” she said to the commissioners. “One day, maybe some of you may be standing before a board, asking for something that you need, that makes your life a little bit easier, to not be cut or taken away.”
Ridership on Crestview Route 11 dropped 26 percent the first six months of this year, and those numbers countered Commissioner Wayne Harris’ refrain, “You use it or lost it,” as Harris reminded city planner Eric Davis, who also addressed the board.
“In business, the product or service continuously losing money over several years gets cut,” Harris said.
Fair enough. However, residents relying on the buses don’t see this issue the same way. Those who are new to the area, especially, have few or no options for getting around.
One woman who recently moved here from New York said she initially walked five miles from her 5th Avenue home to her job at Wal-Mart, prior to learning Crestview had bus service. Coworkers eventually told her about the bus routes.
That, to me, says a lot.
Where’s the promotional push for public transportation? Why were new residents unaware of the bus routes?
In other words, is enough being done?
Buses don’t need to exclusively serve the three groups I mentioned earlier in this column. The disabled, senior citizens and lower-income residents can benefit from the service, but so can a cross-section of the community — and that could help with the Hub City’s notorious traffic problem while helping the planet.
Let me explain.
Smart Growth America, a nonprofit coalition that aims to help communities cope with growth economically and effectively, recommends that so-called smart cities have more transportation choices. Smart cities, with help from their local chamber of commerce and other entities, make it a point to promote alternative transportation modes, whether it’s bicycling, walking or taking the bus to school, work — anywhere.
Getting more cars off the road reduces fuel emissions, which helps the environment, and can help families who reportedly spend more than 50 percent of the budget on housing and transportation.
Promoting public transportation to more than people who need it, but also to people who may want it, could be Okaloosa County Transit’s best bet. I’ve seen this work in other cities. Make it hip, get a viral campaign going on the Internet. Figure something out.
But OCT, as a nonprofit, would need business and community support for such a promotional push.